2020… Where do we begin?

There is no denying that 2020 has been a year marked by significant challenges for individuals and communities across Australia. We began the year in a time of crisis, colloquially known as the ‘Black Summer’, with bush fires impacting an estimated 18.6 million hectares of land. After a period of much needed rain in February, the catastrophic bushfires that tore through 75% to 100% of our mapped koala habitats, finally came to a halt. Unfortunately, our nation’s relief was short lived as the global COVID19 pandemic reached our shores. The social, emotional and economic impacts of COVID-19 were felt by everyone in our community. This, combined with the urgent need for wildlife intervention post-bushfire season, has made for one of the most important years in our organisation’s history.

Despite the limitations placed on us due to COVID, our team continued to conduct research and deploy resources within safety guidelines. This ensured that our native species could survive the difficult conditions faced post bushfires. As recognition to all who supported S4W through this challenging time, this month we have compiled an overview of Science for Wildlife’s actions and achievements in 2020.

Deploying Resources to Wildlife in Need

Featured: S4W deploying water stations in the Blue Mountains region

Throughout the bushfire season and into the months following, our team of volunteers and staff were active in the field deploying critical resources for local wildlife in the Greater Blue Mountains region. These individuals worked tirelessly, doing emergency response work wherever it was needed. During this time, we:

  • Implemented an emergency evacuation of koalas threatened by approaching fire
  • Carried out search and rescue for wildlife after the fires, including using our koala scat detection dog team
  • Used remote sensing analysis (satellite imagery) to effectively deploy resources based on greatest need
  • With the help of an army of over 140 volunteers, we designed, built and deployed over 240 water stations, food drops and camera stations and maintained them on a weekly basis for 3 months. They were deployed across 3 areas, up to 100kms apart. The food and water mitigated the risk of dehydration and starvation for wildlife following the fires and the cameras were to evaluate where our help was effective.

These actions ensured that many of our koalas and other wildlife species had access to basic resources for survival.  A big thank you to the volunteers and S4W Staff who assisted us during this time, and to everyone who donated to help.

Learn more here:

Koala’s Returned to the Blue Mountains

Back in March, Science for Wildlife were thrilled to announce the safe release of the koalas saved from the devastating mega-fire that moved through Blue Mountains region. Our Team rescued these marsupials in December 2019, and took them to Taronga Zoo to be cared for and sheltered in safety, with a team effort between Taronga and Science for Wildlife in keeping them fed. On Monday 23rd March, our Team safely reintroduced 13 koalas back into the eucalyptus forests in Kanangra-Boyd National Park.

Learn more here:

Do koalas thrive after care?

In addition to returning these furry creatures to their home, S4W also began a new project, in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Service under the NSW Koala Strategy, monitoring the welfare of koalas that come into care and are released back into the wild. This project is operating in the Greater Western Sydney region, and will inform improvements to protocols on wildlife care and release. These koalas included the wonderful Wally and Royal. Thank you to WIRES and their amazing wildlife carers for being part of this project.

Learn more here:

Post-fire Surveys

Featured above: S4W Team conducting post-bushfire survey

Prior to the fires, our team were working our way across five koala study sites, spending 2 to 3 years at each site to carry out conservation research. Our approach drastically changed after the bushfire season, with an urgent requirement to scale up and blitz through all five study sites, undertaking around 400 surveys. By doing this, we can discover how many koalas survived and make plans to ensure koala population recovery into the future.

We re-wrote our research grants and applied for more funds, and received significant support from San Diego Zoo Global who ran a bushfire fundraiser for us in the USA, and also from the Koala Research Plan under the NSW Koala Strategy (DPIE).

The post-bushfire survey process began with re-surveying sites where we had previously mapped koala habitats in SE Wollemi/Hawkesbury and Kanangra-Boyd/Kanimbla. This allows us to measure the true impact of the fire at these sites. We also began assessing if there were any undiscovered fire refuges housing surviving koalas. Refuges have landscape characteristics that make them less likely to burn, and they are critically important because wildlife can recolonise out from them, restoring populations over time. Our team want to find out what those refuges look like so that we can make recommendations to protect them.

During the surveys we are also looking out for the scat of other critters, to get an idea of the areas that still support good biodiversity after the fires.

Dr Kellie Leigh speaks at Parliament House

In addition to dealing with the impacts of the bushfires out in the field, Dr Kellie Leigh was also sharing knowledge to help plan for the future. Last December and again earlier this year in February, Dr Kellie was invited as an expert witness before the NSW upper house for a state inquiry into koala populations and habitats in New South Wales. She presented research and recommendations based on our study sites in the Blue Mountains and shared the critical actions we took to protect koalas during to the catastrophic bushfires of Dec 2019 – Jan 2020.

“I have been communicating our unique experience during the bushfires across a range of Government platforms that inform conservation management and policy. These platforms included two NSW Government Inquiry hearings, a special bushfire meeting under the NSW Koala Strategy and a Federal Government Ministerial roundtable at Parliament House in Canberra. It is critical we learn lessons from what went wrong during the fires, and  improve our management responses to ensure wildlife survive into a climate change future” – Dr Kellie Leigh

Learn more here:

Thank you from Science for Wildlife

A big thank you to our volunteers, staff and partners! You have been essential to our ability to provide vulnerable koala populations and other threatened native species with the resources and protection they need to survive. Without your support, many of our projects and initiatives would not be as effective and in some instances, not possible at all.

The generosity of the community has also been imperative to our organisation’s ability to take action. During the bushfire season of last summer, S4W was overwhelmed by the range of people who donated to help our cause, both locally and internationally. This incredible community support allowed us to scale up our efforts and ensure that the best available science and technology was being applied on the ground where it counted.

Thank you to our partners & collaborators:

You can catch more of our work in 2020 here:

National Geographic – https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/07/australia-marsupials-struggling-after-fires/

iView ‘After the Fires’ – https://iview.abc.net.au/show/wild-australia-after-the-fires

The Project, Channel 10 – https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=351888789513532

How can you help S4W?

Even as the year comes to a close, our job does not stop. We are inviting volunteers from local communities and beyond to assist over the coming months and into early next year. If you’re interested in learning more and registering to help out, then please check out the button below.

The road to recovery for wildlife will be long. Beyond our current koala surveys, we are seeking funds to monitor more species across the fire zones and we need to monitor long-term to determine if pockets of surviving wildlife grow or decline, so that we know how to manage them.

This year we’re making it easy to shop for nature! If you are looking to give a gift that will make a real contribution to wildlife conservation, head to our store via the link below. All proceeds go to wildlife after the fires.

For a list of articles from 2020 or to learn more about Science for Wildlife community, visit our website here.